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Qatada expected to fly to Jordan
A near decade-long battle to remove Abu Qatada from Britain is expected to come to a head when the controversial cleric finally leaves for Jordan.
After spending at least £1.7 million trying to eject the terror suspect from UK shores, the Home Office is understood to be preparing to put the 53-year-old on a military flight at RAF Northolt, west London, at around 2am on Sunday.
Following numerous courtroom battles, it was a treaty signed between the UK and Jordan that finally secured Qatada's departure, giving the radical preacher the assurances he insisted he needed to leave his taxpayer-funded home behind.
The agreement, unveiled by the Home Secretary earlier this year, aims to allay fears that evidence extracted through torture will be used against the father-of-five at a retrial. In a shock decision, Qatada pledged in May to leave Britain - with his family in tow - if and when the treaty was fully ratified, a process that concluded earlier this week, to the relief of many.
Once dubbed Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, Qatada has been in Belmarsh prison after breaching a bail condition which restricted use of mobile phones and other communication devices.
The Government has been trying to deport him to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999, for about eight years. Qatada - who has praised the September 11 terror attacks - has repeatedly used human rights laws to thwart his removal. This argument, originally rejected by the British courts, was upheld by judges in Strasbourg, forcing Home Secretary Theresa May to seek new legal guarantees from Jordan that his rights would not be breached.
A 24-page mutual legal assistance treaty was drawn up between the UK and Jordan, containing a key passage that states where there are "serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture" it will not be used in a court.
Qatada's lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC then unexpectedly revealed to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) that his client, also known as Omar Othman, was prepared to leave if the treaty was enshrined in law. "There's never been a time in the last 12 years that Mr Othman and his family could safely return to Jordan," he said. "For a long period of time, he has made it clear that he wishes to leave lawfully."
Despite the reassurances, the immigration judges were not satisfied enough to release the cleric from Belmarsh after they heard ''jihadist files'' were found on digital devices in his home. A USB stick found in the home, understood to belong to Qatada's oldest son, contained videos made by the "media wing of al Qaida".
It was recently revealed that the lengthy deportation fight has cost the taxpayer more than £1.7 million since 2005, including £647,658 for Qatada's legal aid costs and more than £1 million in Home Office costs for pursuing the case through the courts. When Qatada returns to Jordan, it has been reported that he will be taken to the maximum security Muwaqqar prison in a military zone near the capital Amman.